Get Out the Saw, Pa

Contemplating A World Without Sparks

Our temperature has risen! In Saskatoon right now it’s 10 F or -12 C and the thermometer is supposed to climb all the way up to -1 C / 30 F. Balmy breezes, almost! Our cats are enjoying the great outdoors this morning.

Texas residents won’t be nodding at that. I’ve been reading about the dire weather conditions and suffering of the poor Southern folks and they do have my sympathy because I realize they aren’t at all prepared. With our well insulated houses, furnaces and insulated water lines buried deep, we’re prepared for extremes of -50 whereas -0 F is a disaster down there.

No power is a game changer anywhere, though. I appreciate what the folks in Texas are going through on that score. (Assuming you have a furnace) heating fans and water pumps need electricity. Baseboard heaters and stoves are useless. We lived in Quebec during “the ice storm of the century” and know what it’s like to have no power for days with the temp hovering at freezing point.

The only way to operate anything – like the pump that pumped water out of our basement – was with a gas generator. Farmers especially were bringing these in from the US as fast as they could find them. For our dairy farmer neighbours with their bulk milk cooling tanks, a generator’s a must. We did have a wood stove in the basement, thanks be, and waded through ankle-deep water to stoke it. Generally speaking, this is not where modern man wants to go.

A friend and I had a discussion one day; she asked, “What if our power supply was cut off permanently.” I said most of us would die. She said, “If we needed to, we’d just have to find other ways to survive.”

I said, “Ha! We can’t live without power for an extended time. In winter, how would you heat?” She thought we’d have to cut wood.

I asked her to imagine the seniors in her building, in all the apartments on all the floors, trying to burn wood. Someone might burn the place down! “And think the million people in your city all trying to find enough firewood and wood stoves. Or get water – or food? Or drive on completely blacked-out streets? What would happen to stores if the city was blacked out every night? All the factories shut down, people out of work? No, I’m afraid if power was permanently cut, most Canadians living in cities would soon perish.”

She was using the idealistic “We’d all go back to the land” mentality. Everyone would get a little chunk of land to live on (which would denude the countryside.) Big farmers would have to share their land. We’d all survive on raising our own veggies, hauling our water (from where?) and sawing our own firewood. Our lifestyle would keep us healthy. It worked once. Why not again?

Recently I read that President Biden is taking measures to wean the US off oil and gas; I tried to imagine how that will work in the long run. Kind of like Texas now, but nationally? Softie that I am, I hate the idea of wind power because those big turbine blades kill so many birds; perhaps that could be fixed somehow? Giant bird nets? But in Texas now we hear the turbines are all iced up. How would they manage at -30F like we get?

Solar panels may make enough electricity for a home, but for a city water and sewage system? For factories and hospitals? Time will tell, but I foresee The train they call the City of New Orleans coming to a grinding halt with its fifteen cars and twenty-five sacks of mail.

Without oil to run factories, I can picture a time when the US will go back to a farming economy, minus the big equipment. Maybe, like my friend suggested for us, each city family will be given a chunk of land and go with subsistence farming, but I fear those beautiful national forests will go for firewood.

I’d thought Canada could benefit: we could sell our oil to the US if they wouldn’t produce their own. But I see the new President has cancelled the Keystone Pipeline project, meant to carry Alberta oil to Louisiana. Eastern Canada would breathe easier if all those dreadful coal-burning factories in IL & OH were shut down, ending the acid rain now polluting Ontario & Quebec waters.

Oil is currently a necessity to our lifestyle, but bringing in oil from overseas runs the risk of more oil spills and pollution. Building hydro-electric dams costs the environment, too. Ontario found nuclear power an unreliable, expensive, waste-producing alternative. Every solution has side-effects that must be calculated. Or, as someone tersely put it, “The cause of problems is solutions.”

In reality we can’t just go back. Not unless you eliminate 70% of the population and their demands on fuel supply and the power grid. Transportation, international trade, heating, cooling, sewer & water, manufacture, agriculture, construction, health care and more: these depend on a steady stream of power/oil & gas.

Idealism is the luxury of folks who are financially secure or retired in their little estate with a nice nest egg. They can dither to their hearts’ content over solutions for environmental concerns. And we should certainly all do our part to stop consuming, wasting, and polluting. READ: Stop buying CHEAP JUNK. Be willing to pay more for things made in your own country, where pollution controls are in effect.

But the poor senior on pension, the welfare family, or the average Joe/Jill who lives in a big city and has to work for a living – especially in a factory – may have a whole different perspective on the importance of saving the environment. Running out of food before payday weighs more heavily on their minds than thoughts of the world running out of oil in the year 2525.

Montréal Métro

I read a short verse this morning that flipped my mind back to our days in Montréal and how many times we rode the métro across the city. My nostalgic journey has inspired me to write the following verses as a tribute:

Montreal métro
a swift whistle to the chaos
of Berri-UCAM

middle subway car
the first one on wakes up
at the end of the line

fruitful trip
to the Jean-Talon Market
squashed on the ride home

Montréal métro
all trains stop — riders whisper
another sad exit?

Montréal métro
“merci d’avoir voyagé”
lingering ear worm

The Project

I’ve decided to try the 50 Word Thursday Challenge #31, offered this week at Tales from the mind of Kristian.

You are to write a picture to go with the following image. Your story must be between 50 and 250 words, in 50 word increments. (so 50, 100, 150, 200 or 250 words). Mine is exactly 200. And you must use the following line in your story:
“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

DSC07310.JPG

 

THE PROJECT

“Can’t you just see it?”

“Nope. Nope. Never.”

“Hey, where’s your fighting spirit? This site would be perfect.”

“Do you have any idea how much opposition we’d face?”

“It may not be as bad as you think. Listen, Ashton, if you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”

“And moving all these graves… We can’t just pave over them. The descendants will howl.”

“I don’t know about that. People are tired of this old mess — they’d be delighted to see something attractive. We’ll set the stones along one edge and this can be the new Fifth Street Park.”

“Well, that’s one option… And the church would be easy enough to knock down. Someone’ll be delighted to salvage the beams and windows.”

“Now you’re talking. I’m positive that if we offer the City Council a high-rise hotel here, stressing the revenue potential, and throw the promise of a park, they’ll get on board.”

“Okay. I’ll draw up a plan and get an architect’s rendering to present. But you’re the spokesman for this project, Lance. You deal with hostile descendants, reporters, and feisty seniors from the Historic Preservation Society threatening us with their brollies.”

Living Up High

I can’t remember the writing prompt for which I wrote this little tale; maybe an exercise in dialogue or a story about city living. But I did it awhile ago for The Write Practice and now I’ll reprint it here.

THE PERILS OF LIVING HIGH

Pigeons overlook park.jpg“Back again, Flutter.” Grayson made a wide loop and landed beside his mate. “The place looks good so far, though I’d be quite happy if they’d stop right now. It’s a comfortable height for us; if they go much higher we won’t be able to sit on the roof at all.”

Flutter murmured her disapproval. “These humans seem to have gone mad with wanting to hover up in the clouds. It’s ridiculous. Give me a nice twelve-storey building any day.”

The two of them sat on the balcony rail of the hotel at the corner of Franklin Street and watched the crane lifting up even more steel girders for the new apartment building going up a few blocks away.

“It’s going to be a dandy when it’s done,” said Grayson. “I’ve put our name in for a light fixture on the eleventh floor. As you say, no point trying for a penthouse. It does looks like this is another one that’s going up into the clouds. We’d be dizzy all day long looking down from that height.”

“And the danger to our fledglings being blown off a roof that high.”

“I was along with several others on this reconnaissance flight. We especially checked out those fancy outside floodlight fixtures. They’re just the ticket, dear. Far enough from the wall to build our nests behind and they’ll keep our toes warm in winter. Hope these humans don’t get some silly notion about shutting the lights off at night.”

Flutter bobbed her head up and down. “The location couldn’t be better! Right next to the park. But I sure wish that old man would come again. You know, the one who always filled his jacket pockets with birdseed and encouraged us sit on his shoulders to eat it.

Feeding pigeons.jpgGrayson agreed. “I do miss him. Walking breakfast bar, he was. I wonder why he never comes anymore? Well, anyway, there are always kiddies dropping their bags of popcorn.
“I just wish we lived father away from those dratted peregrines. Since they’ve taken over the roof of the Delta Inn life has been a constant struggle for survival for downtown pigeons.”

“Let’s not even think about them.” Flutter shuddered. They’d already lost a number of relatives to peregrine falcon attacks.

“Bloodthirsty birds,” Grayson squawked. “Wish the airplanes flying over would take every last one of them out.”

He rubbed Flutter’s cheek with his own. “I do think we’re going to be quite cozy in our new digs. And it’s always interesting to watch the traffic below. We’ll just have to be sure and get a sheltered spot to build our nest.” They were both quiet a moment remembering the high winds that blew their nest away last year, grieving for the four almost-hatched eggs they lost.

In spite of the nice tall buildings humans were constantly erecting for them, living downtown was always perilous.